Thursday, December 20, 2012

Out with a bang

Our last major activity for the year, the tent meeting in Lembinwen Village (Southwest Bay, Malekula), proved to be a fruitful endeavor.  We had 28 of us from Tulwei Village, Mike from Santo, and Aiel's family of five Christians together for a week of fellowship and Bible study.

Mike and I taught each evening for about 45 minutes, and then conducted a question and answer session.  For two of those nights, the latter was heavily monopolized by Sabbatarians asking questions in promotion of their core doctrine.  It became somewhat of an impromptu public debate.  While not the design of the Q&A session, the outcome was that both sides were able to communicate their beliefs and everyone was able to make their own conclusions in regard to the truth of the matter.  I appreciated the opportunity to defend the truth in such a scenario.

We had a morning devotional each day, and then everyone enjoyed visiting, eating and working together for the remainder of the day.  A major job was going to the bush to fetch five bushels of thatch to roof a house Aiel is building.  It took seven of us half a day to cut down three trees, remove and bundle the leaves, and carry them back to the house - probably would have taken Aiel and his son two or three days to complete by themselves.  We were happy to help out.

We were grateful to have several visitors for the nightly studies, two or three of whom were regular in attendance.  We look forward to following up with them early next year.

Mission accomplished!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Tent meeting

The church was recently planted in Lembinwen Village (Southwest Bay, Malekula), and Aiel is keen on sharing the truth with others in the village.  He requested that we come and conduct a tent meeting (called an “open-air meeting” here) on his property, so that he could invite his friends and family to come and study the Bible.  He invited the entire Tulwei congregation to come and support the effort, and most of the Christians are planning to attend.

Each night of the five day meeting will consist of Bible teaching and a Q&A session.  Mike and I have chosen texts to study through each night.  Please be praying for the effectiveness of this effort, scheduled for December 10-15!

Nancy, Jansen and Aiel Massing in Lembinwen Village

Friday, December 7, 2012


After our first full year in Tulwei Village, it became apparent that we had saturated the segment of the population that were interested in attending public teaching sessions.  I began brainstorming for a way to reach those who were spiritually inclined, but for whatever reason were not attending our public studies (most simply assume that one church is as good as another, and they are content to be active only in their chosen religion without much thought to the possibility of change).  The Vanuatu culture is a very non-confrontational one, and people tend to shy away from anything that might make them uncomfortable or cause them to stand out (e.g. being a visitor).

I discussed some ideas with the local brethren and we decided that it would be most effective to install a notice board near the main road in the village, where we would post various materials in an effort to spark interest in Bible study.  I constructed a 2’ x 4’ sign with a tin roof, and Alsen and I installed it.  I would estimate that almost 100% of the village residents will pass by the sign in a week (most of them going to and from their garden), and hopefully it will grab their interest. 

There are several aspects to the notice board.  [1] I currently have an open letter to the community stating my intentions for coming to the village, and emphasizing that I have not come to “start yet another church” but instead have come to promote the spiritual unity for which Jesus prayed in John 17.  Denominationalism is a spiritual disease that has claimed the lives of the large majority throughout Vanuatu and the world, and our main goal as missionaries is to call people back to the truth of God’s word - no more and no less.  [2] We are offering an 8-lesson Bible correspondence course that is written in the local language of Bislama that I hope many will take part in.  [3] Each week, I plan to post a “question of the week” to deal with issues that locals are constantly inquiring about.  Hopefully we will have some submit their own questions for answer, but until then I will discuss questions that we’ve regularly received over the past 7+ years.  [4] We have attached a mailbox into which people can submit questions, request a Bible study, and deposit completed correspondence courses.  [5] I have written an overview of what Jesus says in the New Testament about His church - so many accept a traditional practice without ever considering the existence (or absence) of biblical authority.  I hope that this study will prompt some to consider Jesus’ plan for His church and to evaluate their own current practices and lifestyle.

After only a few hours, we’ve seen several stop in at the notice board to investigate.  I am really excited about this outreach effort, and pray that it will be fruitful.  Would you please join us in those prayers?

Alsen and I mixing concrete for the notice board posts

Notice board: Overview of the church, Bible correspondence
course offer, mailbox, question of the week, and an open letter

On the way home from the garden, this gentlemen
stopped to read and took an intro Bible course

Thursday, December 6, 2012

New meeting place

The congregation in Tulwei Village assembled for the first time in their new meeting place on Sunday, November 25.  The new location allows us to accommodate everyone inside, unlike our former structure were many were forced to sit outside in the sun.  We were happy to welcome three non-Christian visitors that morning as well. The brethren were honored to have Caleb O’Hara from Ripon, CA preach that morning.  In light of the occasion, we ate lunch together after our assembly, and the brethren decided to begin having a fellowship meal on the last Sunday of every month going forward.  We pray that the new meeting place will serve to honor God as He is worshiped and His word is studied inside.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Three more Christians

We are pleased to share news with you of two new sisters and one new brother in Christ.  During our most recent trip to Southwest Bay, Aiel’s son (Jansen) and daughter (Lorenzi) were baptized into Christ.  Jansen was a part of our original studies with Aiel and Nancy, and Lorenzi recently moved back to the village from Port Vila.  Her dad has been promoting the church to her for months, and she had a long study with Shawnda during our visit.  The next morning as we were getting ready to depart, Aiel tearfully said that he felt like a mother-hen, now having his entire family (wife, sister, daughter and son) safe in Christ. 

The following week, Eva (in Tulwei) announced her desire to be baptized.  She studied with Shawnda for several weeks during our last trip to Malekula, and has been counting the cost of becoming a disciple ever since.  She is married to Alsen and Flexon’s youngest brother, Sam Pierre.  We are hoping that he too will become interested in studying and obeying the gospel soon.  They have two young boys - Samuel and Sylon.

Shawnda studying with Lorenzi

New sister in Christ - Lorenzi

New brother in Christ - Jansen

Aiel, Jansen, Lorenzi and I just before they were immersed into Christ

Shawnda and Eva, with her son, Samuel

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Happy 6th Birthday, Titus

Hard to believe, but our little guy is 6 years old as of November 24.  Birthdays aren’t really celebrated culturally in Vanuatu, so we kept it pretty low key.  Titus enjoyed a decorated veranda, chocolate milk on his cereal and sprinkle-pancakes for breakfast, presents, a trip to swim in the river, two ice cream cones, a chocolate cake, and a water balloon fight.  Thank you, God, for blessing our lives with Titus!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Welcome, Caleb

We are always excited when an overseas Christian states his intention to come and visit.  This month we were happy to have Caleb O’Hara (from Ripon, CA) spend a couple of weeks with us in Malekula.  Much encouragement is realized from such short-term mission trips: resident missionaries, visiting missionaries, local Christians and non-Christians are almost always edified by the time together.

The theme of Caleb’s trip was definitely “delay”.  First his flight from Fiji to Vanuatu was delayed, which caused him to miss his domestic flight on to Malekula and meant he was delayed in Vila overnight.  On our way to Southwest Bay we were twice delayed - once for a couple of hours at high tide when the truck couldn’t cross the river, and again for almost seven hours while we waited at the wharf on the captain of our boat to return from town. Last but not least, his Fiji to Los Angeles flight was delayed which caused an unscheduled overnight stay in Nadi.  Despite all these delays (which in actuality gave him a very realistic view of life in the Pacific!), we still had a great time together.

Selfishly, my main goal for Caleb’s visit was visiting/studying together with him.  He and I were a year apart at the Bear Valley Bible Institute, and I have respected his spiritual wisdom since then.  I thoroughly enjoyed talking about various topics throughout the two weeks, and felt like I was sufficiently “sharpened” as a result of our numerous discussions (Proverbs 27:17).

We made a week-end visit to Southwest Bay to do some prep work for our upcoming “tent meeting” that is scheduled for December 10-15. The entire Tulwei congregation is planning to travel there for that weeklong study.  We built a place for washing dishes, dug a new outhouse toilet, mapped out post holes for the “tent” (tarp on bamboo posts), cut tree limbs to use as posts, and planted two gigantic posts (tree trunks) for a new sleeping room.  Caleb preached a lesson on “Evaluating Traditions” during our Sunday assembly.

Back in Tulwei, Caleb conducted a three day seminar on Church Growth, emphasizing God’s view of spiritual growth (primarily from Ephesians 4).  It was a very relevant study for the congregation, and hopefully it will serve as a spring board for the upcoming year’s events.  He preached a lesson from Nehemiah on “Overcoming Discouragement” during the Sunday assembly.

The remainder of our time together involved sharing meals with local Christians, various work projects, visiting, and sharing our village life.  Thanks for coming, Caleb!

Two weeks with the Brandells in Malekula!

Practicing patience as we wait on the boat at the wharf

"Do you see the boat anywhere? No? Me neither..."

Visiting with Aiel in Southwest Bay

Getting the notice board put together and painted

Meeting the native wildlife (spider)

Preaching in Tulwei Village

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Conversions Update

The church in Vanuatu has had several conversions of late, many of which have come about as a result of local Christians reaching out to their friends and family.

In Port Vila, Kalkot and Atison were recently baptized.  I studied with Kalkot and his wife, Joana, back in 2006 - she was converted then but he was not really interested in spiritual things at the time.  He passed a message to me shortly before our most recent trip to Vila that he was now ready to give his life to Christ.  We studied the Bible together several times in Sept/Oct, I baptized him, and it is great to have his entire family meeting together with the other Christians in Vila.  Atison is Flexon’s nephew, and we’ve had contact with him and his family in Malekula.  After finishing school in Malekula, Atison got a job with a resort in Vila and moved in with Flexon and Fiona.  Flexon began studying with him (as did one of his friends) on a weekly basis.  Atison realized his need for forgiveness, and was baptized into Christ by another uncle, Jean Claude.

In Etas Village (Efate Island), Joe has been attending public studies visiting the assembly for several months.  He also attended in the PIBC classes in Vila.  Having realized his need to be added to the Lord’s church, and after an impromptu study on baptism with me, he was baptized into Christ last month.

In Yatukun Village (south Tanna Island), Tom has been working hard to teach his extended family.  He taught and baptized his wife’s brother (Jake) and sister-in-law (Anna) a few months ago in Green Pointe Village, his uncle two months ago, and his brother’s mother-in-law, Margaret, last month.  Tom is an exceptional man, and one who takes the responsibility of “letting his light shine” very seriously.

In Lorakau/Loun Village (Central Tanna), the congregation saw four of their family members baptized into Christ one Sunday last month.  Joslyn is the teenage daughter of one of the local leaders (Harry).  John’s wife and brothers were converted several years ago in Etas Village and when he and his wife recently moved to Tanna, he continued his study of the Bible with the local Christians.  Marta is the teenage daughter of Margaret, who was originally converted in Etas and subsequently moved back to Tanna (Margaret’s husband has also been studying the Bible).  Miswel is another one of the leaders/preachers, and he taught and baptized his father.  That was an especially neat story, because his dad is deaf and mute - but also the happiest man you will ever meet, guaranteed.

What’s so encouraging about all this is that, of the ten conversions mentioned, I played a part in only two.  The locals that have been converted over the past several years have matured to the point that they are effectively sharing their faith with others.  In a word, awesome!

And this isn’t about numbers, it’s about changed lives (thus the title, “Conversions”).  We see the gospel of Christ changing peoples lives.  Brawlers have become peace-makers, drunks have become sober, abusive husbands have become tender and loving, lovers of money have become lovers of God and His people, just to name a few.

Indeed, the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).  With whom have you shared it lately?

Atison (middle) with his uncles Jean Claude (left) and Flexon (right)

Kalkot, Joana, Lorenzo and Brenden

Tom baptizing Margaret into Christ

Jake and Anna (and Jake Jr.)

Congregation in Loun/Lorakau

Andrew baptizes Joe into Christ

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Tanna 10/2012

Our family boarded a plane for Tanna Island on October 12, accompanied by Jean Claude from Malekula.  The Baker family lived and worked in Tanna in 2011, in a similar way to our being in Malekula.  Since they returned to the States earlier this year (Aaron was back in Tanna for two weeks in August), we have been looking forward to having an opportunity to go and followup with the work there.

We spent almost a week with the Christians in Yatakun Village, with is located on the southern half of the island.  Back in 2009, while in Tanna conducting Bible studies in the north, Aaron and Mike Green (Dupont, Washington) went and preached in the local market in town.  Margaret and Meriam were there selling their produce and were very interested.  They went home and told their husbands about what they heard, and went back to town the next day to get Aaron’s phone number.  Margaret’s husband, Tom, began calling Aaron on a regular basis and took our Bible correspondence courses.  When the Bakers later moved to Tanna, Tom and Aaron began studying together every Friday morning (Tom usually walked almost 4 hours one-way for the study).  Tom, Margaret and Meriam were all baptized as a result of these and other studies.  Subsequently, Tom’s older brother (and Meriam’s husband), Antwan, and Tom’s sister, Ruth, were also baptized after studying with Aaron and Cindy.  Earlier this year, Tom studied with and baptized his brother-in-law, Jake, and his wife, Anna.  Jake and Anna live in the southernmost part of Tanna, and walk about 3 hours to Tom and Margaret’s house every weekend to assemble with the Christians in Yatakun.  Eventually, they plan to begin meeting in their own village at Green Pointe, which will hopefully be an open door to share the gospel with the locals there.  We are planning to start teaching there next year.

Tom has many leadership qualities and is well-educated.  His spiritual maturity is amazing, especially given that he has been a Christian for less than two years.  He is very dedicated to working for the Lord and is a great example of a Christian husband and father.  Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to spend some time with him and getting to know him better.

Titus and I visited Yatakun with Aaron once last year, but this was Shawnda and Alexis’ first visit.  Our main purpose for this trip was to come and spend time with the local Christians - getting to know them better, answering questions, and studying together.  I taught a series of lessons each morning on some “Big Picture Bible Study Helps” that seemed to be well received.  Everyone followed along in the Bible and took diligent notes.  We had some good questions after the studies, and several impromptu Bible discussions throughout the week.  Shawnda had prepared 10 studies based on the fruit of the Spirit which she went over with the ladies each day (and they plan to use those 10 studies in a less-intense time frame over the next few months).

Outside of our formal and informal study times, we enjoyed walking through their coffee plantations and gardens, swimming in the river and ocean, and singing together every night.  Though we were only a few voices, the sound that was produced was strong and uplifting - and they would keep singing even after our family had retired for the night.  Shawnda was able to establish some really strong relationships with the women, basically spending every waking hour with them.  All the Christians there are around our age, and we really hit it off well.  A highlight of our trip was Meriam’s mom being baptized into Christ.  She had studied previously with Tom, and had a good discussion with Shawnda before making her decision.  Including a great uncle a couple of months ago, Tom has now taught and baptized four people.

We were sad to have to depart Yatakun, but excited to move on to Lorakau Village further north.  The truck we had arranged to pick us up at 8am never showed up, and Tom actually ended up going all the way to town to find a truck that would come and get us.  We made our way down the bumpy, winding, dirt road to town (about 45 minutes) and made it to town where we met up with Miswel.  We restocked our supply of rice, crackers, peanut butter, and noodles, and headed for the village.  Miswel was actually converted in Etas Village (near the capital city of Port Vila) several years ago, but moved back to Tanna when Aaron and Cindy came so that he could help establish the church in his home village.

It was bittersweet to arrive in Lorakau - we were very happy to be with the Christians there, but staying in the house that the Bakers had lived in really made it sink in that they are no longer in Vanuatu (and it’s quite obvious that they are dearly missed by everyone).  We quickly got settled in and I met briefly with Miswel and Harry regarding our plan for Bible studies.  Harry was the first convert in Tanna back in 2009, and lives in Lorakau, whereas Miswel lives about a 45 minute walk away in Loun Village.  There are Christians in both villages, and they rotate meeting places each Sunday so that they can all assemble together.  We ended up rotating our daily studies back and forth in a similar fashion.  Thus, the Christians in this area are more spread out than what we dealt with in the south (where we were all together all day long).  I was pleased to learn that they had baptized four people the previous Sunday, all of whom were family members of Christians.  

Due to timing and distance, the attendance at our daily studies was about 6-8 Christians, but there were 16 Christians present at our Sunday assembly, along with 4-5 visitors.  When you add on the 20 or so children, it was a full house!  They asked Jean Claude to preach, and he did a fine job.  I have mentioned before that I am making a conscious effort to include locals on all my mission trips, and it continues to bear fruit for all involved.  We had a tearful goodbye meal with the Lorakau/Loun brethren, a good night’s sleep, and got on the truck early the next morning to head back to town for our flight back to Vila.  All in all, our transportation situation worked out well for the whole trip.

Upon returning to Malekula, Jean Claude gave a short report of our trip to the brethren at the close of our assembly, and that evening we gathered again to show photos and videos from our trip.  This type of thing is important here, because small congregations can tend to think that they are the only faithful Christians around, and are encouraged to see the faces and conditions of their brethren living in other parts of the country.  We are already looking forward to our return to Tanna, Lord willing in April 2013.

Welcome to Yatakun Village (with Jean Claude)

Sunday AM assembly in Yatakun

Abu Margaret baptized by Tom

Tom's house
Our family slept in a 5'11" x 5'11" x 5'11" room - how do I know?  Because no
matter which way I stood/laid, my feet and head hit the perimeter!

Visiting Antwan's coffee plantation - he has approx. 1,000 heads

Shawnda studying with the ladies in Yatakun

Jean Claude and Tom

Sleeping quarters in Lorakau

Sunday AM assembly in Loun
Teaching in Loun

Meeting place in Loun